The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Ford Flounders And Quick Hits by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday October 8, 2013

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Did You Notice? ... Ford Flounders And Quick Hits

Thomas Bowles · Tuesday October 8, 2013


Did You Notice?… How, after a surge during midsummer, Fords have failed miserably during the Chase? It wasn’t supposed to tilt this way, especially with the momentum this manufacturer held in early September. Heading to Richmond, Penske Racing’s Joey Logano was arguably the hottest driver on the circuit; one week later, it was Carl Edwards after winning that regular season finale.

Both men had high hopes they’d be able to contend over the final ten races. Instead, they’re 10th and 11th in the championship, respectively, and a whopping 119 points combined behind leader Matt Kenseth. Some of their slump has been due to circumstances beyond their control, one mechanical failure apiece, which put them behind the eight ball. But the problems for Ford seem a bit more systemic than broken parts and pieces. Check out the laps they’ve led during the Chase:

Chicagoland – 39
Loudon – 3
Dover – 1
Kansas – 88
Total: 131

That’s a fraction of the time Toyota (455 laps) and Chevrolet (648) have spent out front. More importantly, Ford has yet to record a win; their rivals sit with two apiece heading to Charlotte. How bad has it been for the Blue Ovals, in particular Roush Fenway Racing? Tiny Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan has led three laps during the Chase – as many as Chasers Edwards and Greg Biffle combined.

This is a sight that fans of Carl Edwards and the other Blue Oval drivers have not seen much of in 2013.

It’s clear, at first glance the aerodynamics of the Fusion are a step behind their counterparts, crucial at the “cookie-cutter” tracks that define the Sprint Cup circuit these days. Last week, a new nose was approved for 2014, and although NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton played it off, typically a manufacturer doesn’t apply for a change to make their cars look pretty.

There’s also a major transition occurring in terms of star power. Greg Biffle, age 44 in December, could be quietly approaching the downside of his career. You wonder, with sponsor 3M up at the end of 2014, if the No. 16 ride could be giftwrapped for Trevor Bayne down the road. Fellow youngster Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is already promoted, in his first year driving Matt Kenseth’s No. 17; but like his stint in the Nationwide Series, it’s clearly a project to get him up to speed. Even at Penske Racing, with Brad Keselowski burdened by bad luck it’s taken the better part of six months for 23-year-old Joey Logano to feel at home. These young names are, for better or worse, Ford’s future that they’ve pinned their hopes on; they’re just not becoming superstars overnight.

There’s also the perplexing case of Edwards, set up for long-term success with new crew chief Jimmy Fennig, yet unable to put the pieces of the puzzle together at certain tracks. Since his nine-win season of 2008, leading to a runner-up finish in the season standings, Cousin Carl has won just five times over the last five years. Key amidst that slump has been a downturn in performance on intermediates, once a place where the No. 99 car was borderline unstoppable. Victories at Homestead (2010) and Las Vegas (2011) are the only ones he’s cashed in on those types of ovals; this season, he’s finished no better than third on any of them.

Perhaps one other problem for Ford is how Roush Fenway Racing and Roger Penske are now sharing the title of “number one.” While Chevrolet (Hendrick Motorsports) and Toyota (Joe Gibbs Racing) have clear-cut, top-tier operations, the battle from within at Ford was jarring by comparison. Brad Keselowski, in particular, has been vocal the teams need to work across the aisle better. Garage talk says it’s happening but building trust, especially with some contentious relationships on both sides, is easier said than done.

In the end, Ford should bounce back for 2014 as Keselowski alone is primed for a much better year. But it’s hard to term this year as anything less than a disappointment; barring a miracle, it looks like that midsummer surge towards the front was nothing more than a brief phase.

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before we take off…

- It’s been two starts, two wrecks for Justin Allgaier in the Cup Series. But don’t be fooled. He was running exceptionally well, with a single-car team, on both occasions and could have landed inside the top 15 at Kansas. It’s still not a given he’s the full-time driver for the No. 51 team in 2014; either way, though this Fall has shown us the skill is there for him to be Cup ready.

- What a great time for Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to run 1-2. Next, the series heads to Charlotte where they were 1-3 (with Kasey Kahne sandwiched in between) back in May. Harvick is still the forgotten man in the title race; Busch still feels like he has something to prove. Both should be dangerous Saturday night.

- You know who else is happy to see Charlotte? Denny Hamlin. It’s the last time he’s finished inside the top 5 in a Cup Series race. The resulting 18-race slump that’s followed has easily been the worst of his NASCAR career.

- Many tracks, from Michigan to Richmond have announced removing seats in the name of “making the track more economical.” How is squeezing fans closer together into a smaller amount of grandstands more economical for them? If anything, it makes the racetracks look more “full” on TV so fans will bite and think they can get to their local NASCAR facility without traffic.

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10/09/2013 01:51 AM

Justin A. seems to be one of those drivers like Jamie Mac that have been around forever, yes I know NW, but isn’t NW what all the detractors say is a training ground? And yet he still hasn’t really improved. Because you will it in your writing, the results are still the same, nada. I suspect the same will be written of Brian Scott and Kyle Larson….

10/09/2013 08:38 AM

Justin A, Ricky Stenhouse & Aric Amirola are all in the same group in my mind – most of the time, they are just not that good. Decent, but not that good.

Roush-Fenway hasn’t been the same thing Yates is no longer building engines for them.

Carl D.
10/09/2013 10:16 AM

Kenseth got while the gettin’ was good. Edwards and Biffle are stuck at RFR for at least another year.

10/09/2013 11:40 AM

Not sure if Richmond removed any physical seats or not. Observation though, I was there in September and they actually renumbered the existing bleachers to make the seats larger. They’re actually comfortable now.

10/09/2013 12:03 PM

I somewhat agree, that Ford’s biggest issue is the politics of business, especially as it pertains to RFR. When, Kenseth was let go, and Jack Roush acted surprised, you just knew that decision was being made by three-piece business types. Roush has never really been the top dog performer for Ford, think back when Junior Johnson’s and Robert Yates seemed always to have the edge. Now Penske, coming off a championship as the top and only representative for Dodge. I would think the recipe is ripe for political discord. Of course the first thing to suffer is performance.

10/10/2013 12:14 AM

Richmond did remove seats. Gotta love the reasons both tracks use, “more economical”?? Just tell the damn truth, you’re removing seats because you don’t want the damn place to look empty.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters

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